Iowa unions take the national stage

As momentum on the Clinton campaign continues to build, Iowans for Hillary today announced the endorsement of three notable Iowa labor leaders and AFL-CIO board members, Sandy Opstvedt, IBEW Iowa State Conference President and DNC member; Midge Slater, District Staff Representative for the Communications Workers of America and women's activist; and Deb Groene, Business Manager/Secretary Treasurer of Iowa, Nebraska and Western Illinois District Council 81 of IUPAT.

The wave of support comes on the heels of a five-day, 99 county blitz of Iowa and the endorsement of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. "Hillary Clinton is an agent of change who is committed to rebuilding the middle class and our economy," said Opstvedt. "Hillary works for the American values that I cherish. I am choosing to stand for Hillary and caucus for her on January 3rd because I know she will stand for me and all Iowans as President."

"I support Hillary Clinton because she believes hard working Americans are the backbone of our country," said Slater. "No other candidate has the strength and experience to turn our country around and bring the change we need."

"We are supporting Hillary Clinton because she recognizes that America was built on the middle class," said Groene. "We are confident she will make decisions with Iowa's working families in mind. She is the only candidate with the strength and experience to enact the change America really needs."

Hillary has made a career of advocating for families and believes our country is still one of innovation, leadership, and working people. Her blueprint to rebuild the economy will strengthen unions, ensure our trade laws work for all Americans and provide quality, affordable health care to every American.


High court: Union organizers merit free-speech protections

A sharply divided California state Supreme Court ruled yesterday that shopping malls can't ban protesters from calling for boycotts of mall businesses.

The 4-3 ruling came in a case dating to 1998 involving the Fashion Valley mall and a labor union representing press workers at The San Diego Union-Tribune. The court majority said that free-speech rights – as interpreted under the state Constitution and a 1979 state Supreme Court case – also extend to the private property of shopping malls.

“Urging customers to boycott a store lies at the core of the right to free speech,” Associate Justice Carlos Moreno wrote for the majority. Moreno was joined by Chief Justice Ronald George and Associate Justices Joyce Kennard and Kathryn Mickle Werdegar.

In a strong dissent, Associate Justice Ming Chin criticized the ruling and said the court should have overturned the 1979 case that extended free-speech rights to shopping malls. “Private property should be treated as private property, not as a public free speech zone,” Chin wrote. He was joined by Justices Marvin Baxter and Carol A. Corrigan.

The case settled a question of law and involved no monetary awards or fines.

The dispute began Oct. 4, 1998, when about three dozen union members from the newspaper's press room handed out leaflets in front of what was then Robinsons-May department store in Fashion Valley.

The workers were in a contract dispute with the newspaper. The leaflets described the dispute, claimed that the paper treated its employees unfairly and urged shoppers to call Union-Tribune CEO Gene Bell.

The leaflets also noted that Robinsons-May was a heavy advertiser in the newspaper and essentially discouraged customers from shopping there.

Mall officials stopped the leafleting after about 15 minutes. The mall allows protests, as well as other free-speech activities, but requires groups to get a permit in advance and agree to abide by the rules in the permit.

One of those rules specifically prohibits urging “in any manner” a boycott of merchants in the mall. The union filed a complaint with the federal National Labor Relations Board. The board sided with the union and said the rule on boycotts violated California's free-speech protections.

While the federal Constitution prohibits government interference with free speech, the California Constitution has a free-speech clause that has been applied more broadly.

In 1979, the state Supreme Court extended free-speech protections to shopping malls, which were described as the modern equivalent of the town square. That case, known as the Pruneyard decision after the shopping mall at its center, allowed petition signature gatherers access to malls and to express their views without interference from mall owners.

Fashion Valley lawyers contended that banning calls for boycotts was legal. Allowing calls for boycotts of mall tenants would interfere with the main purpose of the mall – to be a place where people can shop at the merchants' stores.

In yesterday's ruling, Moreno said that the rule was an impermissible content-based restriction. Rules governing the time, place and manner of speech activities are fine, but those that limit what is said are not, he wrote.

Moreno said Fashion Valley's argument that the main purpose of a mall is to maximize profits for its tenants did not outweigh the union's free-speech rights.

Chin defended Fashion Valley's rule.

“The Union may urge a boycott if it wishes, just not on private property without permission,” he said.

Chin complained that the Pruneyard decision has placed California outside the judicial mainstream by extending speech protections onto private property.

Lawyers for the union could not be reached to comment yesterday. The attorney for the mall, W. McLin Lines, said Fashion Valley would change its rule.

“It's not what we wanted, but it was a close call,” Lines said.

Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, said the decision is important because it shows the state Supreme Court's desire to assert California's stronger free-speech rights.


Gov't union front groups pollute Iowa politics

Republicans may hammer Hillary Clinton for being “polarizing,” but it’s simply a strategy to block independent voters from supporting her, former president Bill Clinton said today.

“You become polarizing not because of what you do (but) because of what people say about you. That’s all that’s going on here. She can win this race.” He continued: “I believe, I would draw on today’s facts: all of our people could probably win.”

On the campaign trail in West Des Moines and Boone today, the former president tossed out words that his wife’s campaign staffers don’t like to even speak: “cold,” “calculating,” “polarizing.”

But he used them lightly, using humor to try to convince Iowans that his wife is the opposite.

“Now when people say how calculating she is and how she had a decades-long strategy to be president,” he told an audience in Boone, “I thought, ‘If that’s true then she ought to get 100 percent of the votes.’ Because she’s the only person in history to ever figure it out, that the best way to become the first woman president is .. not to run for office, but to go to small town in the Arkansas Ozarks, in a state that had never produced a president, and marry a guy who had lost his only election for public office, who was making $26,000 a year and was $42,000 in debt.”

If she was smart enough to figure that out, he said, she deserves to be president.

On a holiday weekend with a looming winter storm, Bill Clinton drew about 460 people in Boone, and about 600 people in the Republican stronghold of West Des Moines, who cheered for so long when he strolled on stage that the former president had to wave them to sit down.

“I must say you’re like an early Christmas present for me ‑ there’s so many here and you’re in such good humor and it’s so early in the morning,” he told the audience.

Rival Democrat Barack Obama’s campaign staff, after reading a news report about Bill Clinton’s glowing recommendation of his wife, sent out a statement about outside groups slamming Obama on Hillary Clinton’s behalf.

Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said the campaigns for both Hillary Clinton and Democrat John Edwards “are having millions of dollars spent on their behalf by powerful Washington insiders.”

Three outside groups have spent over $2 million on Clinton’s campaign - $730,000 by the American Federation of Teachers, $486,000 by the women-friendly political action committee EMILY’s List, and $907,000 by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, he said. Some of that has been for positive advertising.

But the pro-Clinton AFSCME forked over $34,000 to send negative mail pieces explicitly against Obama, Vietor said. The mailer said Obama’s health care plan would leave 15 million Americans without health insurance, and quoted Edwards criticizing Obama.

“This deceptive health care attack is exactly the kind of politics Iowans are tired of,” Vietor said. “Barack Obama is running to change this politics and has a plan to provide affordable health care to every single American.”

Clinton campaign spokesman Mo Elleithee responded: “Just this week, Barack Obama sent out a misleading and negative mail piece in New Hampshire attacking Senator Clinton’s character. The truth is, Senator Clinton has a health care plan that covers every American, while experts say the Obama plan would leave 15 million uncovered. His attack mail can’t change that fact.”

Meanwhile, it is not surprising in the slightest that Bill Clinton is gushing about his wife, but die-hard Hillary Clinton fans and some undecided voters in the room leaned in to hear his strategy of persuasion.

He said “grizzly old Republicans” in Upstate New York voted for Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate race, saying “she was the only person who’s ever done anything” for them.

He said: “One area that Hillary’s more conservative in than the Republicans is the budget ... and she’s got a good economic plan.”

He clicked through other points in his wife’s stump speech, saying she has “a good vision” to rebuild the middle class, reclaim the future for children, and restore America’s standing in the world.

After going into detail about one of the topics he’s most passionate about - clean energy - Bill Clinton said his wife’s plans for health care, job creation, education and also have “that level of meat on it.”

“Everything she proposes to do is fully paid for,” he said.

At the end of his talk, Bill Clinton said he hoped Iowans would sign a card pledging to caucus for his wife, “otherwise this becomes a highly academic discussion.”

Obama supporter Marie James, 54, was in the cafeteria at Valley Southwoods freshman high school in West Des Moines, sitting right below a red-white-and-blue “Ready for change! Ready to lead!” banner.

Her husband, Leo James, 65, a serious Hillary Clinton fan, convinced her to come. “He’s trying to convert me,” Marie James said. “We’ve been together 30 years and we’ve never, ever been split like we are on this.”

The first time Marie James saw Obama, at her church, “I was like, ‘Oh, my God,’” she said. But then her husband told her he thinks the reason Bill Clinton was a successful president was because of Hillary Clinton.

“So I’m open,” said Marie James, who lives in West Des Moines. “And so is he.”

Leo James intended to go to his first Obama event today.

Afterward, Marie James, who had never been to a Clinton rally before, said: “I was very impressed, especially the way he talked about the universal heath care and Hillary’s support of the middle class. But I’m still on the fence. But I’m going to be pursuing more about Hillary. I definitely could be persuaded, I can say that.”

West Des Moines is Republican territory “by a good margin,” said Michael Mauro, the state official who oversees Iowa’s election system, and who endorsed Hillary Clinton Friday night.

Later in Boone, although his mission was to talk about his wife, Bill Clinton couldn’t resist sharing some anecdotes about himself, although he was careful to say “she believes” or “we believe” instead of “I believe,” as he has said on the campaign trail in the past.

Chuckling at the name of the Boone venue, an old grocery store that’s being converted into a restaurant called the Gigglin’ Goat, Bill Clinton told the crowd that when he was six years old he was nearly killed by a ram, and still has the scars on his head.

“It gave me a very high pain threshhold,” he said. “It was probably the best preparation I ever had for becoming president.”

Hillary Clinton may not always inspire the rock-star-shrill screams her husband was greeted with by some Iowans today, but her campaign was quick to point out that when she appeared at the same Boone venue in October, the fire marshal had to shut people out of the overcrowded room. The campaign pumped audio into the street so about 200 people could listen.

“I could keep you here till tomorrow morning,” Bill Clinton told the Boone audience before leaving without taking questions. “I left out a bunch of stuff.”


Bad blood left over from gov't union strike

The strike is over, but the healing process may be a long way off. Even with the recent two-year contract agreement -- reached after months of negotiations -- the Multnomah Education Service District's classified union members say they're preparing for a fight.

Because the contract is retroactive to July, a new bargaining process is probably just more than a year away. And a growing number of workers say they are becoming active in the union and preparing to stand up to the district -- again.

Last week, the union met to initiate new stewards, and more than 60 workers showed up, a turnout union leaders say demonstrates that more members are ready to get involved. Union President Kate Baker said she has never seen the union so mobilized and plans to establish a new political action committee. Workers, frustrated over confusion about when and where they would return to work after the strike, promised to continue the fight.

"We haven't really had time to regroup, but I think something will definitely have to change in the communication and relationships as we go forward," said Issa Simpson, a member of the union's bargaining team. "It has to."

The recent two-week strike was largely over health care costs. But the bitter feelings that persist are also a result of intense back-and-forth bickering. Both sides posted angry accusations on their Web sites. They filed unfair labor practices (one each) and lawsuits (three by the union).

The district used its Web site to criticize what it called "patent untruths" by the union and accused union picketers of banging on classroom windows and handing out cigarettes to students at Helensview Alternative School in Northeast Portland. Union members say that never happened.

On its Web site, members of the union called district leaders "cowardly" and accused them of walking out of mediation sessions and leaving children unsupervised or in the hands of unqualified substitutes.

"We all have said things we will want to take back when all this is over," a district spokesman, Mark Skolnick, said before the settlement. "But you can't take it back."

The tension goes back to the 2006 bargaining process, Simpson said. Union members approved a strike, but the two sides reached a deal before workers went out.

Union members -- hoping for greater district contributions to their health insurance premiums -- felt the issue was unresolved. That lingering sentiment contributed to the 87 percent approval vote to authorize a strike last month, Simpson said.

Initially, the district offered a 6 percent increase in its contribution to health insurance and full coverage of the most popular dental plans, plus a 2 percent salary increase over two years. The union wanted the district to contribute $825 a month to health insurance premiums for each member, plus a 3 percent salary increase each year. The district previously had contributed $191 to $768 a month per employee, depending on the employee's hourly status and chosen health plan.

The two sides had spent 11 months negotiating, when, at the end of a 13-hour mediation session Dec. 15, they agreed to the district's insurance proposal for the first year of the contract, as well as a pay increase of 2 percent in the first year and a 2.5 percent wage and a longevity pay increase for workers at the top of the pay scale in the second year.

In the first year, workers will pay insurance rates equal to what other district workers pay. District contributions to workers' insurance premiums will increase by as much as 6 percent in the second year, a change from its original proposal.

The union represents 381 classified employees, including educational assistants, custodians and payroll specialists for the district, which provides to the eight Multnomah County school districts services that include special and alternative education, Outdoor School, health services and technology.

Though union members say they are mostly pleased with the contract, the union lost on one key issue. The union had wanted 30-hour-a-week employees to be considered full time, which would have increased the district's contribution to insurance premiums.

That didn't happen, though workers have heard rumors that some 30-hour employees will be bumped to 35 hours.

The new contract will end July 1, 2009, and new negotiations probably will begin in February of that year, Simpson said.

District leaders say the two sides should be working toward unity, not preparing for another battle.

"The ink isn't even dry and to see that saber rattling and toxic language -- 'we're gonna get you' and 'you ain't seen nothing yet' -- it's so irresponsible," Skolnick said. "It's hard for me to believe that the majority of the staff would want to be associated with that kind of venom. Why would you do that right now unless your purpose is to divide?"

Skolnick said he hopes the district can have a "conflict-free workplace, one in which we can have healthy debates but also be unified behind our purpose of serving the kids."

But Julie Bramman, an office assistant at Arata Creek School in Troutdale, said going back to work will be uncomfortable and tense. Already, Bramman has seen at least one teacher blogging against the union. And others, she said, remain strongly anti-strike.

"I don't think we'll ever get back that great camaraderie we once had," she said.


Unions' real agenda: Money, political power

Dear Editor: Missing from the Tuscaloosa News' story regarding labor unions' work for Democratic presidential candidates [Dec. 9] was an acknowledgment of the payoff these unions expect to get in return.

Union chiefs throughout the country are redoubling their efforts on behalf of the '08 campaigns in order to gain support for the deceptively named Employee Free Choice Act [EFCA].

EFCA is legislation that would strip employees of the right to a secret ballot vote, and make it much easier for union organizers to push employees into union membership.

Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern estimated that if the legislation passes, unions will grow by 1.5 million members a year for the next 10-15 years. That translates into billions of dollars in dues (added to the billions in current dues) to pour right back into Democratic campaign coffers.

- Bret Jacobson
Senior research analyst, Center for Union Facts, Washington, D.C.


Frenzied government labor unions attack in Iowa

The upbeat pre-Christmas tone of the 2008 presidential campaign is about to shift.

While a frenzy of campaign activity in Iowa by labor unions and other special interest groups began earlier this month, with advertising carrying more or less positive messages about the candidates, federal election reports show that several groups not officially affiliated with the contenders are ready to launch attack ads and mailers across the state.

Over the weekend, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) filed documents with the Federal Election Commission reporting that it will spend $40,755 on a mailing opposing Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). AFSCME is one of three major groups that have been active in Iowa promoting the candidacy of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

Another group, a political action committee called Democratic Courage, run by a supporter of former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.), has reported that it will spend about $20,000 on a television ad opposing Clinton. Earlier this year, the group announced plans to run "hard-hitting, creative ads in key primary states highlighting why Sen. Clinton should not be the first choice of voters who want to end the war in Iraq, fight global warming, win universal health care -- or beat the Republicans."

The group, which has specialized in producing low-cost ads designed to attract media attention, has also placed a video critical of Obama on its Web site. In that ad, "Santa Barack Obama" is shown delivering lumps of coal to Iowa voters in the form of votes he cast that were opposed by the PAC.

Two conservative groups also got into the act yesterday, announcing that they will be financing advertising campaigns in the week before the Jan. 3 caucuses.

Yesterday, a political action committee affiliated with Republican Alan Keyes declared its intention to spend $39,000 on phone banks and mailers opposing Clinton. And a PAC called RightMarch.com, which describes itself on its Web site as a conservative group that targets liberal Republicans and Democrats for defeat, reported yesterday that it will spend $16,465 on mail opposing Clinton.

Within 20 days of an election, the FEC requires independent groups to file reports anytime they spend more than $1,000 to either support or oppose a specific candidate.

The only other papers filed with the FEC over the weekend were for mailers promoting Democrat Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico. Whether they help Richardson's campaign, though, will depend on what the Democrats who receive them think of the group that footed the $9,000 bill: the National Rifle Association.


Teachers union was recognized without an election

A renegade teacher and a rival union are leading charges against one of the National Education Association’s (NEA) largest local affiliates, opening up a legal dispute and a debate over who best represents the interests of teachers.

Ron Taylor is circulating a petition to hold an election that would allow licensed teachers in Clark County, Nevada’s largest school district, to vote out the Clark County Education Association (CCEA) as their bargaining agent. A self-identified “union man,” Taylor claims CCEA provides teachers with inadequate representation.

“If a teacher is being charged with something, they’re not being represented by a lawyer,” said Taylor. “These Uniserv directors that represent members, they’re elementary teachers. They don’t know what they’re doing, and they’re just looking forward to a position with the district.”

CCEA President Mary Ella Holloway disputes Taylor’s claims. She says Uniserv directors are trained to resolve problems favorably for teachers at the building level, but that other options are also available if they cannot reach a satisfactory settlement with the principal or other administrators.

“Any time it proceeds to that, our teachers will have lawyers,” said Holloway.

Raising Complaints

Taylor was provoked to action in 2006 after he learned CCEA charged its members much more ($3,600) to take Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) professional development courses than charged by a regional government program ($810). Both entities since have changed the fee to $2,400.

“They are working in cahoots,” said Taylor.

The CCEA president attributed the higher initial price to overhead costs for facilities and attorney fees.

“After we set everything up, we’ve been able to reduce those fees, because we’re not paying as much overhead,” Holloway said.

After his persistent complaints, CCEA terminated Taylor’s membership in February 2007. He said the group also sought to have him dismissed from his teaching position with the Clark County School District. He has filed several unsuccessful legal challenges against CCEA.

From June to October 2007, Taylor worked with the Teamsters Local 14 to promote decertification of CCEA and to organize new representation.

Petition Disputes

Taylor and the Teamsters, who went their separate ways due to disagreements over tactics and differing agendas, have circulated separate petitions. At press time, Taylor reported having 100 signatures in hand, while the Teamsters had collected 350 cards. The support of 30 percent of the school district’s 18,000 licensed employees is needed to trigger an election. If more than half of current employees sign, CCEA would automatically be decertified as the bargaining agent.

Taylor says a lack of time and opportunity, as well as some resistance from school officials, have kept him from collecting more signatures. At one school, he said, 40 of 43 teachers signed.

“Anyone who looks at the petition when I’ve handed it to them, they have yet to turn it down,” Taylor said.

Holloway said CCEA’s lawyers insist the deadline to collect signatures was November 30, the end of “the only open period to challenge us.”

But another labor expert disagrees, noting CCEA was certified in 1972 by school district recognition without an employee election.

“If the organization was recognized by the employer without an election, then the statutory rules do not govern,” said LaRae Munk, director of legal services for the Association of American Educators (AAE). “All Taylor is going to have to do is show the employer that the CCEA no longer represents a majority, and they will withdraw recognition.”

Alternative Organizations

AAE, a nonunion professional association for teachers, sees the growing turmoil as an opportunity to step up its cooperative approach. In November, the national organization teamed with local members to form the Professional Association of Clark County Educators (PACCE).

“We are so proud of our members because of their motivation to establish a professional educators group that is devoted to working collaboratively with all stakeholders in education,” said AAE Communications Director Heather Reams.

“PACCE is about solutions, not a revolution. We know that this school year has been divisive for many teachers in the district. We don’t want to be a sequel,” Reams said.

Teacher Interests

Holloway discounts AAE because of the organization’s refusal to engage in collective bargaining. “Bargaining is a crucial role that [CCEA] does for its teachers,” she said.

Holloway cited her organization’s recent successes at negotiating a $4,500 increase in starting teacher salary and a 13 percent rise in the school district’s contributions to teachers’ health insurance premiums. She said CCEA is better equipped than other unions to negotiate for teachers.

“We understand education and things the Teamsters don’t understand--prep periods, testing procedures, and those sorts of things,” said Holloway.

Taylor isn’t ready to give up, convinced the current representation is not serving him and his colleagues well.

“NEA represents the best interests of NEA, not teachers,” Taylor said.

- Ben DeGrow (ben@i2i.org) is a policy analyst for the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, Colorado.

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